Black Males Often Struggle to Stay Ahead

Keila Torres, Connecticut Post (Bridgeport), January 3, 2009

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But another issue in the African-American community also dominated the headlines in the last year, mentioned numerous times on the campaign trail by Obama himself—most notably his Father’s Day speech before a predominantly black crowd at the Apostolic Church of God on Chicago’s South Side.

“We are called to recognize and honor how critical every father is,” Obama said. But, “too many fathers also are missing—missing from too many lives and too many homes.”

The comments made some people in the African-American community angry, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was notoriously caught on Fox News whispering crude remarks under his breath about Obama.

Others in the black community, however, applauded Obama’s decision to discuss the issue on the campaign trail. Although others had spoken on the issue before him—like actor/comedian Bill Cosby, who in a recent Hartford appearance again addressed the subject in a speech before the Fatherhood Task Force established by House Speaker James A. Amann—Obama drew attention to the problem as never before.

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Obama was right in declaring that many black men shy away from their responsibilities, said Laurayne Farrar-James, a former Bridgeport teacher and community activist. “We’re looking at a very serious dilemma. I see it across the board; it’s just people of color have a greater portion of the burden to carry,” she said.

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‘Last hired, first fired’

There are many complex reasons why the black community, in particular, finds themselves affected by this issue, said Craig Kelly, president of the Greater Bridgeport NAACP. “We burn the candle at both ends. At one end is the system and at the other end we are burning the candle ourselves” with negative behavior, he said.

The current economic meltdown, for instance, is exacerbating an issue that many black men have always dealt with: a lack of jobs and the threat of losing a job.

Black men are “still the last hired and the first fired,” said Lt. Dave Daniels, who works in the Bridgeport Police Department and is director of the annual Officer Friendly Drug Free Basketball camp. “They are not out there making money like the status quo. I think that plays a big role in this.”

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Despite the advances society has made and the impact of Obama’s election, many men are still plagued by racism, said Kelly. “Society makes it difficult for him [a black man] to be a breadwinner. Certainly racism plays a role in this aspect,” he said. “Black men are told we are part of American society and then we are slammed.”

For instance, if a “black male encounters a police officer he is more likely to go to jail than their white counterparts,” Daniels said.

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The effect of not having a father figure in a child’s life can have a profound negative effect, Tisdale said. “Children from single-parent households are usually underdeveloped,” he said. “Children never get the opportunity to experience the support of having a male in the household.”

For children in the area, the issue is worsened by the lack of black men in the education system, said Farrar-James. “There are 365 days in the year and 181 of those days young people spend in school,” she said. “Our system of education plays a major part in the development of our children.”

Young black men are suffering because of the “absence of having someone that looks like him, strong black males they can relate to and identify with,” said Kelly.

In many instances, young men who grow up without a father “mimic and carry out the same characteristics as their father” by walking away from their own offspring, Kelly said.

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Obama’s election could serve as a catalyst to motivate the nation to step forward—like they did on Election Day—and find a way to end this cycle of fatherlessness, Kelly said. “Clearly with Obama being a president, being a family man, having values that says a lot. We have not had a model to emulate in a long time.”

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But the responsibility of this great task should not rest solely on a family’s shoulders, Daniels said. “I try to be the kind of police officer that is approachable,” he said. “You don’t have to be somebody’s father to tell them to be in school, go to college.”

“We have to, as black men, step up to the plate and do positive things to build up the black family,” said Meekins.

Communities also need to develop and support programs that teach children and young adults to “develop a sense of cultural self-esteem,” Kelly said. There also need to be programs specifically tailored for teen and new fathers.

The education system should also play a part in solving the issue of absent fathers, Farrar-James said. {snip}

“We have to move to the point where Obama is the rule, not the exception,” Kelly said.

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